Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

What to expect from Stormzy's new world tour: first show in Dubai sees a grime king crowned

'There is going to be a lot of energy tonight,' said Stormzy. He was right: 'Heavy is the Head' indeed

One of the benefits of RedfestDXB is its timing.

With the annual festival being in the first weekend of February, the event often serves as the year’s first gig for many of its headliners.

Fresh from their New Year’s breaks, acts take to the Dubai stage ready for another year of touring, keen to premiere new songs or debut a new stage show.

All of these factors came into play on the second and final day of RedfestDXB on Friday night at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. The event hosted half a dozen artists, all with a point with prove.

Now, some were more successful than others in doing that.

Stormzy's new show is all heart

The star of the evening was Stormzy. Back in Dubai for the third time and playing in front of his biggest audience to date, the grime star’s RedfestDXB gig was the launch pad for a world tour that will take him across the Europe, US, Asia and Africa.

With the UAE serving as gig one out of more than 50 to come, what can the world expect? Well, we will let the big man say it himself: “There is going to be a lot of energy tonight," where his opening words.

Stormzy, indeed, stormed through a vibrant 80 minute showcase of his flamboyant and insightful take on grime, proving himself as a formidable performer.

The man works hard on stage and the seeming litres of sweat left on the floor is ample proof of how hard he goes on the mic.

In a way, he had no real choice. Backed only by a DJ (with the help of evocative lighting design and high-tech visuals), Stormzy wasted no time in making the massive stage his own.

He pounced on stage to the mercurial and swaggering horns of the set opener Big Michael – a playful stab at critics and naysayers: “Ya either motivate, or go round up” – before bringing his trademark propulsive raps to the bouncy Audacity and Cold.

The addition of introspective gems from Stormzy's latest album infuse his new show with pathos

And this is when Stormzy’s latest album, the opus Heavy is the Head, comes into play. The album’s experimentation with pop, soul and gospel, allows Stormzy's live show to take on a new found resonance.

Where his debut Dubai performance at the 2016 SoleDXB festival was fast and furious, the addition of the introspective gems from his latest album infuse his new show with pathos.

This is particularly the case with the soulful Do Better and Crown, two tracks that will surely have proven to be crowd singalong favourites by the end of the tour in October.

With the frenetic one-two finish of Still Disappointed and Vossi Bop, Stormzy left the stage more than satisfied. His was the confident smile of a talent who knows he has a killer show that's ready to tour the world.

Machine Gun Kelly is a superb showman

Stormzy wasn’t the only one with a point to prove. Machine Gun Kelly, 29, delivered an exhilarating set for his UAE debut.

The US talent has built a growing buzz over the last three years courtesy of his genre bending styles. Like Post Malone, Kelly’s music transcends genre norms as it liberally dips from the rock, hip-hop and pop playbook.

Indeed, his Friday night set was akin to seeing multiple concerts in one. There is the hip-hop Kelly, with his gruff and commanding flow sailing over the stuttering trap beats of Hotel Diablo and Live ‘till I Die. But then there is the grungy Kelly, as he straps on a pink guitar, and unleashes strong pop rock offerings with the likes of the Stone Temple Pilot-esque Why Are You Here and the rap-rock hybrid Candy.

While, it could have all been messy and disjointed, Kelly kept the show together courtesy of his superb showmanship, which smacks of equal parts Eminem (when in full on brash mode) and Scott Weiland (when it is time to rock).

With Kelly promising that “2020 will be a great year” and that he has a new album on the way, he also said he will back in Dubai for another performance later in the year. With such talent and momentum, don’t be surprised if in the future Kelly returns to the venue for a show all his own.

Noah Cyrus keeps it real while Cheat Codes flop

While the RedfestDXB stage can be considered “a friendly stage” for up and coming pop-stars, it still proved to be a tad too much for Noah Cyrus. The younger sister of Miley Cyrus did relatively well in her short set, which showcased her own brand of confessional pop.

Tender tracks such as Live or Die and the lovely July were well received – perhaps, a bit too well. The mass singalong caused butterflies for Cyrus which she couldn’t keep under control throughout her set.

By the time the closer Make Me Cry came around, it all proved too much. Stating “I think I am going to throw up,” Cyrus raced off to the stage, thus concluding what had been a spirited showing. For someone who is always upfront about her feelings, it didn’t feel anti-climatic: it was probably the most honest moment of the night.

Beginning the night’s major run of performances at sunset was Cheat Codes. The less we say about their poor showing, the better. While the US production trio got the hits (No Promises with Demi Lovato, Only You with Little Mix and the recent Liam Payne collaboration Live Forever) their stage show was shambolic and the lack of coordination left the boys painfully exposed as they simply ran around with nothing to do.

If this is what their promised new stage show looks like, they need to return to the drawing board.

Updated: February 8, 2020 01:13 PM

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